Tested: Sketch Nation Create
Series: Kids Coding & Game Design Apps
We recently decided to cover kids coding and maker education more prominently here on The Wonder Nook. Research emphasizes how important these skills can be, and not just because coding skills are in demand. Coding and game design nurture creativity, design-thinking, computational logic, and more. Most schools don’t teach kids programming and, as one coding expert told recently told NPR, those that do don’t do so in an engaging way. In fact, they can be downright boring.
Learning apps and games have the power to change all that, but the field is growing quickly. I’ve decided to test and review a series of kids coding and, in this case, game design apps and spotlight those I find most accessible, effective, and (most importantly) engaging. Enjoy!
What is Sketch Nation Create?
Sketch Nation is a true STEAM-focused learning app that lets kids design and share their own games. Children choose the style of play, set the difficulty, and draw their own elements right in the app. They can also play games built by other players. The game-building process supports budding art and storytelling skills and provides a hands-on element. While not exclusively a kids coding app, Sketch Nation introduces kids to the basics of game design and computational thinking in an accessible way. Kids can create their own games without writing a lick of code, but those building advanced, multi-level game have the option to code certain elements.
Learn more and find it here: Sketch Nation
How It Works
Children can choose from 9 different genres of games and set the difficulty level, which ranges from simple to advanced. Characters can be directed using on-screen controls or by tilting the device, depending on the style.
Once the initial details are set, kids are invited to draw their own characters, backgrounds, obstacles, and other elements using a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) style drawing platform right in the app. Think: a specialized version of Microsoft Paint. They can also zoom in to build more complex characters pixel-by-pixel.
Simple Play for Young Kids
Sketch Nation allows children to create simple one-level games that suit younger kids nicely. You can set the game difficulty to an appropriate level. Sketch Nation also features pre-designed options for characters, obstacles, and background, letting kids build basic games without drawing customized elements. Children not yet comfortable with on-screen controls can choose genres that allow players to control characters by tilting the device.
Advanced Play for Big Kids
Once kids get a feel for Sketch Nation, they can advance to multi-level game design. Children designing at this level can set a myriad of settings that customize everything from game speed to how characters interact with their environment. While Sketch Nation does not require kids to write code, I noticed certain settings have an optional field for customized coding.
Playing the Game
After kids choose all customizable elements with the guided walk-through, launching the game is as easy as tapping a button. Browsing through other kids’ games is also a snap. Players can “favorite” one another’s creations, but cannot post comments or downgrade other designers’ work. Sharing is optional. Children who do can do so without revealing any personal identifying information.
Go For a Test-Drive
Parents can experience the app before making it accessible to children by launching the Web-based option at Sketch Nation, no downloads or email sign-ups required.
Meet the Maker: Nitzan Wilnai, Sketch Nation Founder & CEO
I exchanged emails with Sketch Nation Founder & CEO Nitzan Wilnai, an experienced game designer whose credentials range from building simple single-player Web games for Yahoo! to serious multi-level console-games with Electronic Arts. He said he has been passionate about mobile apps since the beginning and recognized just how much one can do with touch-screen technology, an embedded camera and an easy to way to connect to the Internet. Now he’s putting it to the test creating kids’ learning apps like Sketch Nation Create.
“Creating games is a great way to stretch the mind of a student. Not only can kids learn about the technology underlying games (including logic, graphics and coding), but also they can improve their storytelling, creative, and communication skills. Sketch Nation Create is unique in the market today, bringing together so much potential learning from game creation, in a way that is fun, engaging, social and open-ended for our users. That’s why the feedback we receive from teachers and students alike is so positive and full of passion.” – Nitzan Wilnai
Review: Sketch Nation Create
Note: This is an unbiased review, NOT a commercial! I’m in no way affiliated with Sketch Nation and receive no compensation. Plus, the app is free!
As a maker education enthusiast, I’ve downloaded more than my fair share of kids coding apps. Too often I love the idea of the app, but find them too complicated for regular play or difficult to control. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy Sketch Nation is to navigate. The first time I tested it, I created a simple “platform” game featuring self-designed power-ups and opponents in less than 2 minutes. More advanced players like Ashton can create more complicated multi-level games, but the process is still straightforward.
Ease of Use
Kids can complete the whole game-building process within the app following a guided development process. The interface features a combination of words and pictures that was intuitive enough for my four-year-old to use independently after one go-through with my support. Children have the option of importing photos for certain elements, but I didn’t test the feature. I preferred to keep things simple and contained within the app.
My only additional comment about the Sketch Nation user-interface is that my son occasionally had trouble selecting pixels or colors (displayed in small squares) when playing on our iPad mini. It wasn’t a huge obstacle, but some kids might find it easier to work with a smaller tipped stylus. I considered grabbing one for the drawing section anyway to give Ashton a bit more control. He said he liked using his fingers.
Sketch Nation Create teaches more than just basic game design. Kids draw, plan stories, create the environment, and solve problems. As an aside, Ashton has dyslexia and dysgraphia. Sketch Nation Create let him plan and create his own stories without with added stress of reading or writing. We could definitely incorporate the app into other disciplines, like history or science.
Bonus Points: Sketch Nation offers free downloadable lesson plans in coding fundamentals and computer graphics.
I actually really enjoyed using this app, and so did the kids. It was so engaging, in fact, that my son turned down an opportunity to play another young creator’s shared a 2-D Minecraft platforming game. He said he didn’t want to stop making his newest game, Plants vs. Zombies: Zombie Explosion. Considering how much this kid love Minecraft, I’d say Sketch Nation is a winner!